Category Archives: Secrecy

Headlines of the day: More TrumpLandia™ Turmoil


We begin with the New York Times:

Republican Congress, Stuck at Starting Line, Jogs in Place

  • Republican lawmakers and President Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised.
  • Disagreements, a lack of clarity from the White House and a slow confirmation process have stymied their plans.

Two from the Washington Post, starting with this:

Flynn saga shifts balance of power between president, Congress

  • In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, Republican senators are vowing more aggressive oversight of the new administration, and Democrats are seizing an opportunity to ask pointed questions about President Trump’s ties to Russia.

And then this:

Trump looking at billionaire to lead review of U.S. spy agencies

  • Stephen A. Feinberg has been a major donor to Republican candidates and has served on Trump’s economic advisory council.

Next up, this from the Guardian:

Deutsche Bank examined Donald Trump’s account for Russia links

  • Bank looked for evidence of whether loans to president were underpinned by guarantees from Moscow, Guardian learns

Finally this inevitable TrumpTweetstorm™ subject-to-be from BBC News:

Israel-Palestinian conflict: UN warns Trump over two-state reversal

  • The UN chief has warned Donald Trump against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there is “no alternative”.
  • It comes after Mr Trump went against decades of US policy, saying he would back whatever formula led to peace.
  • Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that the US could drop support for Palestinian statehood.

Before win, Trump staff talked to Russian spooks


It just keeps getting better.

And potentially felonious.

From the New York Times:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.

The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the government outside of the intelligence services, they said. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.

More from the Guardian:

The New York Times report cites four current and former US intelligence officials who are unnamed and who conceded they had “so far” seen no evidence in the intercepted phone communications that Trump campaign officials had cooperated with Russian intelligence in Moscow’s efforts to skew the election in Trump’s favour. The officials do not explain what, in that case, the contacts were about.

A CNN report said “high-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence”.

Despite the uncertainties, the reports are threatening to the Trump administration on a number of levels.

  • They flatly contradict the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, who on Tuesday repeated his earlier assertions that there had been no pre-election contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials. Last month, Trump himself also denied any such contacts.
  • They pile further pressure on the Republican congressional leadership to launch committee hearings on Russian election interference that were promised, but have so far failed to materialise.
  • They are a further sign that intelligence officials are willing to leak extensively against the Trump administration, making it extremely risky for the White House to try to shut down investigations into collusion with Moscow that are reportedly being carried out by several intelligence agencies.
  • They add circumstantial weight to the reports on the Trump campaign’s Kremlin links compiled last year and passed to the FBI by a former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele. His reports alleged active, sustained and covert collusion to subvert the election which, if confirmed, could constitute treason.

Panama Papers law firm founders arrested


Once in a while a single event provides a juncture between two ongoing stories we’ve been following.

First up, the legislative coup that ousted Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the subsequent criminal indictments filed against the coup participants as the result of a massive bribery investigation.

The second story is the Panama Papers leaks, the documents proving the existence of and participants in a vast network of “black flag” operation concealing a great deal of the planet’s wealth.

From teleSUR English:

The two founders of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were arrested on Saturday, the attorney general’s office said, after both were indicted on charges of money-laundering in a case allegedly tied to a wide-ranging corruption scandal in Brazil.

Firm founders Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca were detained because of the risk they might try to flee the country.

Attorney General Kenia Porcell told reporters on Saturday that the information collected so far “allegedly identifies the Panamanian firm as a criminal organization that is dedicated to hiding assets or money from suspicious origins.”

Mossack Fonseca is also at the center of a separate case known as the Panama Papers, which involved millions of documents stolen from the firm and leaked to the media in April 2016.

The fallout from the leaks provoked a global scandal after numerous documents detailed how the rich and powerful used offshore corporations to hide money and potentially evade taxes.

Fonseca, a former presidential adviser in Panama, has previously denied that the firm had any connection to Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht, which has admitted to bribing officials in Panama and other countries to obtain government contracts in the region between 2010 and 2014.

Trump’s pick for #2 at State has a very dirty past


Our new, Congressionally sanctioned Secretary of State last ran one of the world’s biggest oil companies, a key player in an industry notorious for turning to Uncle Sam whenever foreign governments threaten the bottom line.

Now comes word that his number two will very likely be an old hand at dirty tricks abroad.

From teleSUR English:

Elliott Abrams is believed to be U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading candidate for deputy secretary of state, Reuters reported Tuesday. While Abrams is known for having foreign policy roles with two other Republican administrations, he also has a checkered history in Latin America, linked to killings, disappearances and counterinsurgency across the region.

The 69-year-old last served under George W. Bush’s administration, but his work with Ronald Reagan’s administration is the most alarming. Abrams was a key figure in Reagan’s anti-communist intervention in Nicaragua, otherwise known as the Contra Wars.

During the 1980s, the U.S. funded right-wing paramilitary groups against the leftist Sandinista forces in the country. Contra forces commonly used terror tactics and committed a number of human rights abuses. It is estimated that at least 30,000 people died in the fighting, which also displaced many.

The Reagan administration was later found guilty of violating international law in their support of the Contras and mining Nicaragua’s harbors. Similar abuses with U.S. backing also occurred and were covered up in Guatemala and El Salvador. Abrams was known for downplaying the El Mozote massacre — where a U.S.-trained Salvadoran death squad killed over 1,000 civilians — as communist propaganda.

Around the same time, the U.S. supported brutal right-wing dictatorships in Argentina and Chile to squash the possibility of communist uprising during the Cold War with a counterinsurgency strategy referred to as Operation Condor. During the 17-year rule of Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, thousands are thought to have been killed, disappeared and tortured.

Argentina’s, so-called Dirty War is estimated to have left up to 30,000 killed or disappeared after military dictator Jorge Videla came to power in a 1976 coup against left-wing President Isabel Peron and again received U.S. backing.

Japan launches extreme vetting: For smart phones


Targets of the new measures will be folks who use “burner phones” whilst doing nefarious deeds, a scenario familiar to anyone who watches cop shows.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

The communications ministry has asked an industry organization to thoroughly verify the identities of budget smartphone users when they form a contract, it has been learned.

It is often possible to complete subscription procedures on the internet for budget smartphones, which offer lower communication charges than ordinary smartphones, and there is a rapidly growing number of cases in which smartphones are acquired with forged ID documents and then misused for crimes such as bank transfer scams.

To address this situation, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry will strengthen countermeasures such as implementing administrative measures against malicious smartphone providers that shirk efforts to prevent fraud, according to informed sources.

The ministry has reportedly sent a written request to the Telecom Services Association, which comprises about 50 companies selling budget smartphones, including Rakuten Inc. and Line Corp. It called on the association to enhance training for staff in charge of user subscriptions, make sure to report to the police and other relevant authorities when possible frauds are discovered, and share information about fraud methods, the sources said.

In many cases, budget smartphone subscribers verify their identities by entering their name, address and other information on a subscription website, taking a picture of their driver’s license or health insurance card with a mobile phone camera and sending the photo through the website.

Chief Aussie scientist blasts Trump as ‘Stalin’


Days after that Donald Trump made that insulting phone call to Australia’s prime minister, his fellow countryman and the nation’s Chief Scientist has blasted His High and Mightiness for the late Soviet leader in the White House’s ongoing war on science.

And, yes, Chief Scientist is an official Australian government position, described as follows:

Australia’s Chief Scientist provides high-level independent advice to the Prime Minister and other Ministers on matters relating to science, technology and innovation. They also hold the position of Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Science Council to identify challenges and opportunities for Australia that can be addressed, in part, through science.

Alan Finkel is an electrical engineer who has served as Chancellor of Monash University and President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

His remarks came during a Chief Scientists’ roundtable discussion today at the Australian National University, and he was unsparing in his criticism.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Dr Finkel said: “The Trump administration has mandated that scientific data published by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] must undergo review by political appointees before they can be published.”

In the first week of his presidency Mr Trump’s administration informed the EPA it could not send out press releases and no blog messages could be published. The EPA was also told “no new content can be placed on any website”.

>snip<

The Chief Scientist told an audience at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy that this political control was comparable to Stalin’s promotion of Trofim Lysenko’s ideas on genetics and evolution in the USSR from the 1920s.

Dr Finkel said: “It is reminiscent of the censorship exerted by political officers in the old Soviet Union. Every military commander there had a political officer second-guessing his decisions.

“Soviet agricultural science was held back for decades because of the ideology of Trofim Lysenko. Stalin loved Lysenko’s conflation of science and Soviet philosophy and used his limitless power to ensure that Lysenko’s unscientific ideas prevailed.”

Dr Finkel said: “While Western scientists embraced evolution and genetics, Russian scientists who thought the same were sent to the gulag. Western crops flourished. Russian crops failed.”

The Chief Scientist said there was no place for such political control of science. “Frank and fearless advice — no matter the views of the political commissars at the EPA,” he said.

As they say Down Under, Good on ya, mate!

Chart of the day: They’ve got your number


From Americans and Cybersecurity, a new report from the Pew Research Center:

blog-hack